Sunday, January 31, 2016

Jaipur and Kolkata with Sharmila Tagore, the Akhtars and others - photos, updates

As mentioned earlier, I have been putting up lit-fest reports on Facebook rather than on the blog (those are public posts, I think you can see them even if you don’t have an FB account) - but every once in a while, it makes sense to post something here too. So here goes.

I had a very nice discussion with Sharmila Tagore and Balaji Vittal at the Kolkata Literary Meet on Jan 25. Sharmila ji was gracious as usual, and in a good mood too. One highlight: her recalling an incident during the Satyakam shoot near Jamshedpur where a bunch of youngsters tried to disrupt the shoot/generally misbehave. Dharmendra pulled one of them across by his collar, Sharmila ji told us (“and have you seen Dharam’s hands?”) and gave him a couple of slaps. “Because we did that sort of thing in those days,” she added drily, to much laughter (and I thought about Sulekha being teasingly called a “Communist” because she carries her own bags from the bus in Chupke Chupke).

Also, in response to an audience question about her famous bikini shoot in 1966: “I did it because I thought I looked good. One should do these things at the right time, no? I mean, there would be no point my wearing a bikini today.” Watching her on stage, and speaking with her before we went up, it was very hard to believe that this year marks the 50th anniversary of Anupama, An Evening in Paris and Nayak.

My favourite Sharmila moment though had nothing to do with the filmi discussion. It was just before we went up on stage when, right in the middle of an interview, she stopped, pointed at one of the Victoria Memorial’s stray pups sitting nearby, and asked if someone could give it some water because it looked thirsty and unwell.

The pic below is courtesy the Sorelle Grapevine blog, which also has a nice writeup about the session, plus a short video. See here.



Got to sign copies of my three books at the little stall outside Victoria Memorial. It was nice to see The Popcorn Essayists there. (Treat this as a re-plug for an anthology containing some very good pieces by Anjum Hasan, Rajorshi Chakraborti, Namita Gokhale, Amitava Kumar, Kamila Shamsie, Sumana Roy, Manjula Padmanabhan, Madhulika Liddle, Sidin Vadukut, Manil Suri, Musharraf Ali Farooqi and Jaishree Misra.)

In this pic, the Popcorn Essayists, Jaane bhi do Yaaro and Hrishikesh Mukherjee can be seen in the company of many worthies, including Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal’s two books, and Amitava Nag’s new book about Soumitra Chatterjee.


Then there was the session with Javed Akhtar and Zoya Akhtar, which went off well, I’m told. (I can never judge these things while up on stage.) Javed-Saab was looking a bit like the angry young man the couple of times I ran into him in Jaipur (and later at the Kolkata airport, where people peremptorily came up and took selfies with him without even saying a proper hello, as if he were a wax statue or something) - but he was in good form at the Kalam session, especially when dealing with audience questions near the end.


And here are pics from the sessions at the Jaipur Literature Festival, where Anuja Chauhan and I played musical chairs with the moderator’s seat. First, “The Craft of the Bestseller” with Anuja, Ravi Subramanian and the massively popular Ravinder Singh who continues to thrill crowds and readers despite his repeated admissions that he doesn’t read books himself. And then, “Jaane Kahaan Gaye Woh Din: New Books about Old Bollywood” with Rauf Ahmed and Anuja. 

The video of the “Jaane Kahaan” session is here. At one point during the first half of the session, Rauf saab seemed to forget that the panel was only 45-50 minutes long (and that most of the audience would need some context for the inside references he was making to old-time movies and movie-stars), but Anuja deftly got things back on track, and I got to speak a bit too. 

[Don’t have time at the moment to do detailed reports of any of the sessions, but will try at a future date]


  1. I don't get what Sharmila was trying to imply through the slapping incident. Did she mean to say that we felt much more justified in giving into bouts of violence back in the day than in the present day? I see this sort of righteous violence/indignation is something one can still see (and see applauded) in today's movie stars (in India, whereas I think it is more frowned upon in the West, no matter how justified it might appear to most). I seem to recall an incident wherein Akshay Kumar was applauded for slapping his building's security guard for being inappropriate with his son. While I don't approve of inappropriate and rowdy behaviour particularly with minors, I also find myself uncomfortable applauding such violent reactions.

    1. Thought I made it clear that ST was being a little self-disapproving, and alluding to a more casually feudal India where such things were done without privileged people thinking too much about them - maybe that wasn't obvious in the post, should have used another word instead of "drily".

  2. Interesting post, btw. Thanks for it!

  3. Thank you for the link back. So happy that you liked the post :) Take care.